Taking Safety Culture Home

Taking Safety Culture HomeOne question I always make a point to explore with participants in the workshops I conduct with clients is, “Do you take safety home with you?”

The question is intended to reveal how well participants have internalized safety for themselves. We may very well be safe on the job by ensuring we’re wearing all the required PPE and taking precautions to think through the hazards of the task at hand. But what are our practices once we clock out?

Do we mow the grass in flip-flops? Do we operate the weed whip without first donning eye protection? Do we forego ear protection when operating the chainsaw? Are our hands bruised, splintered and nicked up because we failed to wear gloves when clearing out the garage?

A Better Question

But asking “Do we take safety home with us?” might not even be the best way to ask the question. In some ways the question is better stated in the reverse: “Do we take safety to work with us?”

The difference in those two questions is one of origin.  If we talk in terms of “taking safety home with us,” doesn’t that imply that safety somehow flows from the work we do (and the place we do that work) rather than being part of who we are?  Put another way, if safety is viewed as something that starts in the workplace and is taken home as an “add on,” then can it really be said that safety is a core value for us? 10 Things You Absolutely MUST KNOW About Reinforcing Your Safety Culture By Building EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Safety “as compliance” very likely does start at work (after all, most of us don’t maintain an official set of safety policies at home). But safety “as culture” is a mindset – a belief and a value – and that mindset is part of who we are. It implies – even dictates – that we do the right thing in terms of safe work behaviors whether at work or at home. It means we don’t abandon safe work practices even when there is no guiding policy in place.

Safety “policies” are required to set a minimum standard for safe behaviors in the workplace. And they provide a foundation for a larger safety infrastructure. But they don’t keep anyone safe on the job. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and make a blanket statement: No one in the history of mankind was ever inspired to be safe on the job because it was the policy.

Let that sink in a minute. Sustainable safety requires an internalized safety culture – one that starts with the values and beliefs of the individual. When we are operating from internalized safety values we tend to behave differently. As a front-line employee, I may not mind compromising a “safety policy” if it helps me get the job done on time (especially if no one is watching).  But I don’t compromise a belief. My beliefs drive my behaviors – both at home and on the job.

Where Does Safety Start?

So, were does safety “start” with you? How are you ensuring you are just as safe at home as you are compelled (by policy) to be on the job?

One way to accomplish this, of course, is to ensure we personally use appropriate PPE when working around the house just as we would on the job. In fact, in the spirit of creating a sustainable safety culture, many organizations today allow and even encourage their employees to take PPE home with them (e.g., safety glasses, ear plugs, gloves, etc.). This is a great idea and one that blurs the traditional lines between what we do to be safe at work and what we do at home.

But it goes beyond mere compliance. This is about who we are and what we do to lead a safety culture outside of the workplace.

FCTC OnlineI travel almost weekly to client sites across the country and internationally. Recently I visited a client in Texas for a week of post-training field coaching. While there I had lunch one day at a sandwich shop just down the road from the plant I was visiting. As I walked in I noticed that one of the employees (which turned out to be the shop owner!) was putting the finishing touches on the chalkboard menu she had mounted high on the wall. To do that she was using a folding ladder, but the ladder she was using was not tall enough to do the job safely. Consequently, she was standing at or near the top step, which made it impossible for her to maintain three points of contact. On top of that, she was reaching as high as she could to erase older menu items and write in the new ones. The entire scenario just had “bad idea” written all over it.

So, I decided to address it.

I gained her attention and let her know I had a concern about something I was seeing (without revealing exactly what it was) and asked if she had a moment to talk about it. She was very pleasant and agreed to come down to talk, very likely thinking my concern was something other than what she was doing.

We first engaged in some small talk, which revealed that she was the shop owner and the mother of a young daughter at home. I then explained my concern over what I had observed. She was very pleasant throughout the conversation and assured me that she was “being careful” and that she does this activity each time the menu items change.

So I asked her if this was something she’d allow her daughter or one of her employees to do. She paused. When I asked her how her daughter might be impacted if she had fallen and gotten seriously hurt, I could see the light coming on. She nodded in agreement and said, “that’s a really good point, and I’d never thought of it that way before.”

The question is, How willing are we to allow safety to transcend the traditional work environment? If you have a family at home, then it’s imperative that it goes beyond those boundaries.  We’ll explore some ways to create a sustainable safety culture at home in our next issue. But that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES

Eric Svendsen

Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.

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